The Hunchback Of Notre Dame leaves audiences in complete Awe!
Last night the Belfast Operatic Company’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame opened in the Grand Opera House and what an opening it was!
People across the globe will have heard of Notre Dame Cathedral and the tales of Quasimodo, the deformed gypsy born bell ringer who was hidden away from the world, the tale dates back to 1482 though it was 1831 when it was brought to life by Author Victor Hugo, from then the story has taken many forms, a short French film, a silent movie and no fewer than 6 feature length films, though it all changed with the animated release in 1996.
This is the tale I am familiar with. I was 13 years old at the time, Disney was on top of their game, in succession giving us The Lion King, Pocahontas and Toy Story which were all global successes, it was their telling of the story that appealed to the masses, finally a story of Quasimodo that was child friendly, though i do recall being very afraid of Frollo and still picture Demi Moore as the beautifully illustrated Esmeralda.
The movie went on to bring in over $325 million dollars at the box office, it is unsurprising that this wasn’t the end of the story.
Stage productions soon followed in Germany though it was 2014 before the show in its current format was performed to audiences in English in America.
As a fan of the animated movie, Musical Theatre and of past productions by Belfast Operatic Company I am keen to see how the stage version brings the story to life, how it differs etc, so let's jump in.
Act one opened with the sound bellowing from the stage for the opening number “The Bells of Notre Dame” setting the dynamic tone in Latin sending shivers down my spine - wow.
We are presented with a much deeper understanding and backstory of how Quasimodo came to be as are introduced to the ‘Frollo’ brothers Jehan and Claude, one is expelled after an ‘engagement’ with a gypsy girl and the other goes on to become the much feared Archdeacon of the church.
After the untimely passing of his brother, Claude ‘Frollo decides to take in his child who he deems as a monster, the story then jumps forward some years, Quasimodo now a young man, who we learn is hearing impaired due to the overwhelming sound of the bells he adores. Having been locked away for his entire life he longs to join the people in Paris below for the Feast of Fools.
From here we start to get a true impression of Frollo, although Quasi’s uncle there is certainly no love lost, from the outset the relationship is built upon manipulation, abuse and lies, Quasi an impressionable boy is constantly told he is deformed and ugly ensuring has no want for the outside world.
At this point I must talk about Boyd Rogers (Frollo) and Conor Anderson (Quasimodo), absolute perfect casting, I worked with Boyd in Ghost the Musical a few years ago and know first hand how talented he is, this role really gave him the opportunity to showcase a different side of himself, playing the antagonist, his singing was impeccable, I get Josh Groban vibes listening to him, his lower register is so powerful, menacing and at times haunting - Bravo.
Conor on the other hand with his portrayal of Quasimodo stole the audience's hearts, everyone sympothised with him, wishing he had a better life. There was perfect contrast between Conor and Boyd’s voices, as his was light and uplifting with an air of youth to it which only added to the character. In terms of acting I cannot fault a thing, his whole demeanor, nervous reactions, anxiousness and naivety etc made the character so real.
I am conscious that many people will be unfamiliar with the story, so I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, I will however speak of a few more highlights and things I particularly enjoyed
During the Feast of Fools we are introduced to Esmeralda’s character, it’s a fair statement that she is the most beautiful of the gypsy girls, her sensual dancing, confident attitude and loving nature equally appealing to the 3 men in the story. We learn they all view her in a different light, which I will leave for you to discover. Naomi Smyth gave such a wonderful performance, this girl is such a triple threat, again I know Nami though no bias lies her, anyone who has seen her perform in the past or goes to watch her as Esmeralda will agree her voice is stunning, dancing is effortless & engaging and her acting was so natural. At times the emotion in her eyes had me welling up.
There were so many individual great performances, although the story centers around 5 main characters is was great to see/hear so many members of the Ensemble with solo parts, I cannot fault the singing from anyone though on a few occasions lines were missed/not heard due to mic cues though this I'm sure will be remedied for tonight and the rest of the run.
I must mention the remaining 2 central characters, Captain Phoebus and Clopin Trouillefou, David McCrossan was the perfect Phoebus, strong voice, great relationship with Esmeralda and as the main love interest he was pleasing to the eye lol.
Corey Magee as Clopin was great, I loved his stage presence, he had a twinkle in his eye and great charisma.
Being hearing impaired myself, I found one scene in particular really moving and in fact ground breaking, it started with Quasimodo learning Esmeralda to communicate using sign language , this scene concluded with all the gargoyles signing in unison, many a society would shy away from this though everyone was fully committed, a lot of work clearly went in to this, and it definitely paid off.
Throughout the show there were many well choreographed numbers by Timothy Bell. I particularly enjoyed Topsy Turvy and Esmeraldas dance with the tambourines.
In terms of the set, everything visually looked great, I love how things changed fluidly throughout without periods of dead air. The stained glass window was so convincing and I love the life size puppet of the saint, I thought this was a great addition and added another dimension to the scene.
The music and overall sound from the entire cast was a pleasure, so many voices coming together was a treat to the ears. For me though my favorite songs were Out There, Hell Fire and Someday, all gave me goosebumps, so much emotion oozed from Boyd, Conor, Naomi and David, I was truly moved at times which is a testament to the talent on stage.
Final nod must go to the show Director Kerry Rodgers and Musical Director Adam Darcy, what a show, I'm sure you are super proud of what has been achieved.
Thank you kindly for asking me to come and review, I had a great evening and shall be humming the songs for the foreseeable
Tickets are still available via goh.co.uk, the show runs until Saturday 11th, you don’t want to miss it.
Side note BOC have already announced their next show, Phantom of the Opera opening 30th April 2024 - more info can be found at belfastoperatic.co.uk